Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Introduction

           Right around the beginning of the fifth century A.D., a teenager was bored with his classes.  He was studying law.  His father was wealthy and influential.  This was a smart, charismatic kid, and he seemed destined for greatness.
Young Saint Benedict In His Cave
            But he hated school.
            It wasn’t so much that he had anything against learning per se; it was just that the whole business felt like a waste of time.  And the more he learned, the less he liked it.  He was training to go into politics, but the world seemed to be going down the tubes.  There were gangs of kids in the street armed to the teeth, there were wars going on all over the world that never seemed to end and there was a sudden influx of terrible diseases for which there were no known cures.  There were scandals in politics and scandals in the Church.  In short, the World (with a capital ‘W’) was a big disappointment.
            So he ran away.  But he didn’t do what most teenagers do when they run away.  He didn’t join the circus or find his fortune in The Big City.  Instead, he went to live in a cave on the side of a mountain.[1]  The long and short of it is that this he spent three years in more or less total isolation, just praying.  Ironically, all this praying made him rather famous.  People started coming to him for advice.  And the next thing he knew, there were hundreds of guys living in the same mountains trying to do the same thing.  Folks even invented a name for them: the monakoi—the lonely men—or in modern English, monks.  Many years later, he wrote a little book on how to be a monk, which came to be known as The Rule.
            The kid, of course, was Saint Benedict, and his Rule became one of the most influential documents in the history of the world.  It is full of great advice, from who should apologize after an argument, to how many times a day you should to pray, to what you ought to do with old underwear and whether or not you should sleep while wearing a knife.
The problem is that Saint Benedict wrote this book rather a long time ago (1500 years ago, to be precise) and the language is somewhat medieval, so these days, folks don’t read him like they used to.  What’s more, the folks who actually need this advice the most are the very folks who read him the least—namely, teenagers.  So this book is a sort of introduction and commentary designed to help make Saint Benedict’s advice more accessible.

A Note on the Translation
            Whenever I quote Saint Benedict’s Rule in this book, I have used Benedict Verheyen’s 1949 translation.  But I’ve made some adaptations.  I’ve modernized the language and left out the cumbersome, confusing, or repetitive bits.  If you want to read the entire Rule beginning to end, I recommend the famous “RB 1980,” translated by Timothy Fry, Timothy Horner, and Imogene Baker.



[1] The story is, of course, more complicated than this, so if you want all the details, read The Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great.